Though pegged as a prime candidate to "tank" in 2013-14 for the purposes of attaining a lottery pick in the next year's NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns have surprised most by getting out to a 5-2 start.
Even in their losses, which both came on the road to the top two seeds in the West last season -- Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the team has looked strong. In their seven-point loss to the Thunder, the Suns were within a basket until the final minute of play. And against the Spurs, whom they lost to 99-96, Phoenix had a pair of open looks down the stretch to tie the game or take the lead.
Surprise is an inevitable response to the start, but some fans may be disappointed, hoping instead for a better position in the draft.
"I think a lot of people out there want (us to tank) but, again, we're players and coaches and too competitive to ever do that," Hornacek explained to The Doug and Wolf Show on Tuesday. "So, we've gotten off to a good start and we've got to keep fighting to try to continue this."
Following a 25-57 season in 2012-13, president of basketball operations Lon Babby led the organization into a complete rebuild, parting ways with general manager Lance Branks, interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, and all but four players on the Suns' roster, with the trades of Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat and the waiving of Michael Beasley. Now, with GM Ryan McDonough in the front office, coach Jeff Hornacek at the helm and guard Eric Bledsoe starring on the floor, the changing of the guard is well underway as a myriad of early-round picks await the organization over the next few seasons.
Meanwhile, the Babby-led pilgrimage from the loss column to the win column seems, by early indicators, to have accelerated its flight. And Hornacek wants to stay on pace.
"The guys are starting to feel pretty good about themselves, but we've got to stay on top of them, keep pushing them, and keep trying to get better," he said Tuesday.
Hornacek later went on to offer an explanation for the surprising play, pointing out that the team is much more athletic than it was last season.
"If you look at our team last year," he said, "(Luis) Scola, (Jared) Dudley, (Hamed) Haddadi -- they weren't the fastest guys in the world, especially Dudley and Scola. They really knew how to play the game, but they weren't athletic guys.
"And when you put a Miles Plumlee out there and Eric Bledsoe, you've got Gerald Green, and even Markieff (Morris) has got a very quick jump where he's very springy -- you have four pretty darn athletic guys right there that, you know, sometimes you may not do the right thing defensively, however the athleticism makes up for it and they can at least challenge a shot or maybe block it."
Among other things -- having a bona fide star in Bledsoe, the return of veteran Channing Frye to the floor, better three-point shooting, the upswing in Markieff Morris' play and the various roster additions -- athleticism, Hornacek says, lies at the source of the Suns' record.
"It's a world of difference from the team they had last year and it's helped us win games this year."